The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Kingston Herald (Kingston, ON), Sept. 19, 1843

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The following account, which we extract from Hunt's Merchant's Magazine, is translated from an old French work, printed in 1688, entitled "An Account of the Discovery of a great Country situated in America," by Father Hennepin. It will be read with interest:

It now became necessary for La Salle, in furtherance of his object, to construct a vessel above the falls of Niagara, sufficiently large to transport the men and goods necessary to carry on a profitable trade with the savages residing on the western lakes. On the 22nd of January, 1679, they went six miles above the falls to the mouth of a small creek, and there built a dock convenient for the construction of their vessel. **

On the 26th January, the keel and other pieces being ready, La Salle requested Father Hennepin to drive the first bolt, but the modesty of the good father's profession prevented.

During the rigorous winter, La Salle determined to return to Fort Frontenac; and leaving the dock in charge of an Italian named Chevalier Tuti, he started accompanied by Father Hennepin as far as Lake Ontario; from thence he retraced the dreary forests to Frontenac on foot, with only two companions and a dog which drew his baggage on a sled, subsisting on nothing but parched corn, and even that failed him two days journey from the fort. In the mean time the building of the vessel went on under the suspicious eyes of the neighboring savages, although the most part of them had gone to war beyond Lake Erie. One of them, feigning intoxification, attempted the life of the blacksmith, who defended himself successfully with a red bar of iron. The timely warning of a friendly squaw averted the burning of their vessel on the stocks, which was designed by the savages. The workmen were almost disheartened by frequent alarms, and would have abandoned the work had they not been cheered by the good father, who represented the great advantage their perseverance would afford, and how much their success would redound to the glory of God. These and other inducements accelerated the work, and the vessel was soon ready to be launched, though not entirely finished. Chanting Te Deum, and firing three guns they committed her to the river amid cries of joy, and swung their hammocks in security from the wild bears and still more dreaded Indians.

When the Senecas returned from the expedition they were greatly astonished at the floating fort, "which struck terror among all the savages who lived on the great lakes and rivers within fifteen hundred miles." Hennepin ascended the river in a bark canoe with one of his companions as far as Lake Erie. They twice pulled the canoe up the rapids, and sounded the lake for the purpose of ascertaining the depth. He reported that with a favorable strong north or northwest wind the vessel could ascend to the lake, and then sail without difficulty over the whole extent. Soon after the vessel was launched in the current of Niagara about four and a half miles from the lake, Hennepin left it for Fort Frontenac, and returning with La Salle and two other fathers, Gabriel and Zenobe Mambre, anchored in the Niagara the 30th July, 1679. On the 4th of August they reached the dock where the ship was built, which he calls distant eighteen miles from Lake Ontario, and proceeded from thence in a bark canoe, to their vessel, which they found at anchor three miles from the "beautiful Lake Erie."

The vessel was of 60 tons burthen, completely rigged, and found with all the necessaries, arms, provisions and merchandise; it had seven small pieces of cannon on board, two of which were of brass. There was a griffin flying at the jib boom, and an eagle above. There were also the ordinary ornaments and other fixtures which usually graces a ship of war.

They endeavoured many times to ascend the current of the Niagara into Lake Erie without success, the wind not being strong enough. Whilst they were thus detained, La Salle employed a few of his men in clearing some land on the Canadian shore, opposite the vessel, and in sowing some vegetable seeds for the benefit of those who might happen to inhabit the place.

At length the wind being favorable, they lightened the vessel by sending most of the crew on shore, and with the aid of their sails and ten or a dozen men at the tow-lines, ascended the current into Lake Erie. Thus on the 7th of August, 1679, the first vessel set sail on the untried waters of Lake Erie. They steered southwest, after having chanted their never failing Te Deum, and discharged their artillery in the presence of a vast number of Seneca warriors. It had been reported to our voyagers that Lake Erie was full of breakers and sand banks, which rendered a safe navigation impossible; they therefore kept the lead going, sounding from time to time.

After sailing, without difficulty, through Lake Erie, they arrived on the 11th of August at the mouth of Detroit River, sailing up which they arrived at Lake St. Clair, to which they gave the name it bears. After being detained several days by contrary winds at the mouth of the St. Clair River, they at length succeeded in entering Lake Huron, on the 23rd of August, chanting Te Deum through gratitude for a safe navigation thus far. Passing along the eastern shore of the lake, they sailed with a fresh and favorable wind until evening, when the wind suddenly veered, driving them across Saginaw Bay, (Sacinaw.) The storm raged until the 24th, and was succeeded by a calm, which continued until next day noon, 25th, when they pursued their course until midnight. As they doubled a point which advanced into the lake, they were suddenly struck by a furious wind, which forced them to run behind the caps for safety. On the 26th, the violence of the storm compelled them to send down their topmasts and yards, and to stand in, for they could find neither anchorage or shelter.

It was then the stout heart of La Salle failed him, the whole crew fell upon their knees to say their prayers and prepare for death, except the pilot, whom they could not compel to follow their example, and who on the contrary "did nothing all that time but curse and swear against M. La Salle, who had bro't him thither to make him perish in a nasty lake, and lose the glory he had acquired by his long and happy navigations on the ocean." On the 27th, favored with less adverse winds, they arrived during the night at Missillimackinack and anchored in the bay, where they report 6 fathoms of water and clay bottom. This bay they state is protected on the southwest, west and northwest, but open to the south. The savages were struck dumb with astonishment at the size of their vessel, and the noise of their guns.

Here they regaled themselves on the delicious trout, which they described as being from 50 to 60 lbs. in weight and as affording the savages their principle subsistence. On the 2nd of September they left Mackinaw, entered Lake Michigan, (Illinois,) and sailed 30 leagues to an Island at the mouth of the Bay of Puarus, (Green Bay.) From this place La Salle determined to send back the ship laden with furs to Niagara. The pilot and five men embarked in her, and on the 18th, she fired a gun and set sail on her return with a favorable wind. Nothing more was heard from her, and she undoubtedly foundered in Lake Huron with all on board. Her cargo was rich, and valued at 60,000 livres.

Thus ended the first voyage of the first ship that sailed over the Western Lake. What a contrast is presented between the silent waves and unbroken forests which witnessed the course of that adventurous bark, and the busy hum of commerce which now rises from the fertile bottoms, and the thousand ships and smoking palaces which now furrow the surface of those inland seas!

** There can be but little doubt that the place they selected for building their bark, was the mouth of Cayuga Creek, about six miles above the Falls. Governor Cass says 'the vessel was launched at Erie,' Schoolcraft in his journal says 'near Buffalo,' and the historian Bancroft locates the site at the mouth of Tonawanda Creek. Hennepin says the mouth of the creek was two leagues above the great falls; the mouth of the Tonawanda is more than twice that distance, and the Cayuga is the only stream that answers to the description.

p.3 It is stated in the Toronto Herald, that the iron steamer Mohawk is under orders to proceed to Queenston on Thursday to receive his Excellency the Governor General and convey him to Cobourg, where he will pass the night, and then proceed to Kingston; so that His Excellency may be expected here next Friday evening.

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Sept. 19, 1843
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Rick Neilson
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Kingston Herald (Kingston, ON), Sept. 19, 1843